Their leader is gone for the next several games, which means the Packers defense is looking for someone to step up into the role Charles Woodson is vacating, but Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said it can’t be done with words alone.
“He’s been very productive and that’s how you develop into a leader,” Capers said of Woodson, who will be lost to the Packers for a minimum of six weeks as a result of a broken collarbone he sustained in Sunday’s win in St. Louis.
“We’ll be looking for other people to step up into that role,” Capers said, adding: “You can speak up all you want, but if you aren’t doing it on the field, guys aren’t going to listen to you.”
Capers made it sound as though he’s expecting third-year safety Morgan Burnett to step into a more prominent role in Woodson’s absence. Rookie safety Jerron McMillian would appear destined for increased playing time.
“Morgan Burnett can play either strong or free. M.D. (Jennings) has stepped up for us. Jerron will have to be ready to go in the sub positions,” Capers said.
What’s becoming increasingly clear with each passing week is that the Packers are in a distinct youth movement on defense, and the development of those young players will likely go a long way in determining the fate of a defense that was last in the league in 2011 and is currently ranked 14th.
Each of the Packers’ first three draft picks have been cast in prominent roles, and now McMillian’s role is likely to grow. Six rookies are logging playing time on defense.
“Where would you be without the young guys?” Capers was asked.
“I’d hate to think that. That’s one of the reasons our first six draft picks were on defense. You have to have someone to turn to. If not, it’s a big problem,” Capers said.
“One thing about youth is they have a lot of energy. There are a few bumps in the road because they haven’t seen the things Charles Woodson has seen, but they improve as you go along.”
The Packers have another advantage in attempting to overcome the loss of Woodson: Aaron Rodgers and arguably the best pass offense in the game.
Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements spoke on Monday of the need to “get the running game going,” but he acknowledged Rodgers’ high level of performance for a second consecutive week. He spoke of how Rodgers used his eyes to help Randall Cobb work open for a 5-yard touchdown pass that capped an 80-yard drive and staked the Packers to a 17-6 lead in the third quarter, and Clements spoke of Cobb’s development as a route-runner.
“He’s doing things in that 10-, 12-yard vertical stem to make every route look different,” Clements said.
Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum enjoyed his fourth splash play of the season when Mason Crosby and the kickoff team executed an onside-kick recovery in the first half that helped the Packers take a 10-3 lead.
“They were lined up with five men on the line of scrimmage. We saw it on the first one and decided to do it,” Slocum said.
All eyes now turn to the Packers defense to see who might emerge as the unit’s new leader.
Additional coverage - Oct. 22